DUI Cannot Be Elevated To A Felony Due To Prior Juvenile Offense

Here the Appeals Court ruled that the criminal courts cannot punish a DUI as a felony simply because the accused had a prior punishment of felony drunk driving as a juvenile.

The facts are as follows, In 2006, when Lopes was 17 years old, she pled no contest to felony DUI with injury. She was detained as a ward of the juvenile court and confined to a DUI Youth Program for 38 months. In 2014, Lopes was charged with DUI and driving with a BAC of 0.08 percent or more. Both charges were alleged as felonies pursuant to section 23550.5 due to the prior juvenile adjudication. The trial court ruled that her juvenile adjudication could not be used to elevate the DUI to a felony. The People appealed. Held: Affirmed. Section 23550.5 allows a current DUI that would otherwise be a misdemeanor to be elevated to a felony if the defendant had a prior “violation” of section 23153 that was punished as a felony. Welfare and Institutions Code section 203 provides that “an order adjudging a minor to be a ward . . . shall not be deemed a conviction . . . for any purpose.” The People argued that because section 23550.5 uses the term “violation” rather than “conviction” it avoids this bar. The Court of Appeal disagreed and concluded that nothing in the statutory language, legislative history, or case law indicates that the Legislature intended the phrase “violation . . . that was punished as a felony” to encompass juvenile adjudications. The Legislature knows how to include juvenile adjudications in provisions that may elevate the penalty for new offenses. (See, e.g., Veh. Code, § 13105; Pen. Code, §§ 667, subd. (d)(3), 1170.12, subd. (b)(3).) The rule of lenity counsels against the People’s construction. Moreover, the juvenile adjudication does not qualify because it was not punished as a felony. (CCAP)

About thetorranceattorney

Matthew Ruff is a Torrance criminal defense attorney located near the 405 freeway on Crenshaw Blvd. Focusing on DUI and serious criminal cases for over twenty five years. In addition to criminal cases, Matthew also defends clients at the DMV regarding license suspension hearings stemming from drunk driving arrests.
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